A trip to Panama to remember

By Natalie Goering

I just finished college and I feel so very lucky and privileged to have been invited by my grandparents to stay with them in Panama, where they live full time, and to be with them for a few weeks before embarking on my career. Of course, I jumped at this chance to experience something as cool as spending time with my grandparents and in such a great and beautiful country as Panamá.

One of the activities I got to participate in was a trip to the new locks on the Caribbean side of Panamá. It takes about an hour to drive from the City, 2 hours from the beach towns, like Coronado. I learned a lot about the workings of the canal and what is involved in the widening of it and what it will mean to Panamá and its economy when completed early next year. It is really a tribute to the people of Panamá to accomplish this immense project and it shows in their pride. I feel lucky to have witnessed it before it is put in full use and knowing that I saw such an amazing project during its construction.

After the Canal experience, we travelled on to the old Gatun locks of the Panama Canal, crossed it on a rickety bridge right in front and across the immense gates that opens and closes each time a ship passes. We had to wait for a ship to pass and when the gates were closed we could cross. It was a strange feeling to be below the water line inside the locks with a large body of water held back by these immense 100 year old lock gates.

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We then drove on to Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean coast where we had a fabulous seafood lunch. It was so quiet and so beautiful there, sitting on the marina and looking at the vast number of sailboats and yachts. This is where I would want to keep my boat (if I had one). After lunch, off to the next wonder, a very ancient Spanish fort at the mouth of the Chagres river that feeds Gatun lake, which is now part of the Canal route. The fort was built in the 1600’s to protect the constant gold and silver shipments from the new world to Spain from this very spot.

The fort is still standing with all the large canons still in place, living quarters and storage rooms almost undisturbed. It was almost eerie to walk through the rooms and walkways where the Spanish Conquistadors once lived and worked to defend their treasures. And to think that it was left for us to see and experience as it was then centuries later. It is now a National Heritage Site, completely undisturbed and unrestored. Being right on the edge of the water, it has incredible views and was truly an extraordinary sight. We then went down to the water’s edge some miles from this site and found this tiny, very isolated tropical and unspoiled white sandy beach with the clear Caribbean Ocean water lapping the shoreline. We had our very own, personal, private, white-sand, Caribbean beach!

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A couple of days later we went to the province of Chiriquí in western Panamá to visit the gorgeous highlands around Boquete, a small, quant village high up in a beautiful valley near the Barú volcano, the only volcano in Panamá I learned.

It is much cooler and wetter up there compared to the beach areas. I was glad to have brought some warm clothing at the suggestion of my grandparents, who have visited this area before. However, we lucked out, the days were warm and very pleasant without a lot of rain. We went up to the volcano and visited some of the vegetable farms that are spread all over the mountain sides. We went on hikes and saw some incredible panoramic views of the hills, the rain forests, the rivers, the mountain ranges. There were so many things to see and explore, from river rafting, coffee tours, ATVing, serious hiking and everything in between. We ate at some great restaurants and stayed in a beautiful hotel right along a river, surrounded by a rainforest. It was so nice to hear the rushing water from the river while lounging in my very own hammock. I was in heaven.

We finished this particular trip by stopping for a couple of days at Boca Chica, a small fishing village about an hour’s drive South East from the town of David. What a magical place. We rented a boat that took us all around the numerous, mostly uninhabited islands with great beaches. We stayed, had lunch and swam and snorkeled all around coral reefs,  where we saw many beautifully colored tropical fish and the water was so warm and comfortable. We even ran into several pods of whales while traveling these marine preserve waters. What a beautiful sight, to see a mother and her new calf playing in the water from quite close up. Such a different experience from my home beaches around the California coast, which are very cold, dirty, and over populated in comparison.

I am looking forward to many more visits to this beautiful country and several more wonderful stays with my grandparents.

More about Panama here!


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